Alongside on-premise servers, cloud platforms have rightly taken their place as part of IT infrastructure management at most businesses.
Cloud is widely appreciated for its ability to improve business agility, deliver cost savings, open new streams of revenue, improve application performance and unlock routes to leverage emerging technologies.
It is these benefits that have seen businesses investing in their droves. While the technology is booming, the sheer amount of choice on offer can make it challenging for a business to choose a cloud platform which meets its exacting requirements.
However, making the right choices around cloud is crucial for optimum business efficiency.
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The multi-cloud phenomenon
A typical multi-cloud environment is usually made up of one private cloud, which is either operated by the business or managed by a third party, and at least two public clouds. This environment drives many benefits for businesses, particularly in removing the need to depend on a single cloud vendor – which can be costly and unreliable.
As competition between cloud providers is fierce, a business is spoilt on the choice of platforms from a technical and cost perspective. A company can also optimize its return on cloud investments by flexibly spinning multi-cloud resources up or down to meet business requirements.
Because different vendors will naturally innovate in slightly different areas, a business leveraging multi-cloud can exploit developments as soon as they become available. With the ability to ‘fail fast’ – intensively test and incrementally develop new services – a hybrid cloud approach can also support businesses in rapidly rolling new services out to customers to stay at the forefront of innovation and maintain a healthy competitive edge.
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A multi-cloud strategy also leads to robust and reliable application services. Should the primary cloud fail, another cloud can provide the flexibility for failover as part of a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) provision. The robustness of this model makes it popular with organisations operating services that cannot withstand downtime, such as financial institutions.
The use of more than one cloud vendor is also beneficial to retaining an infrastructure which can meet the shifting demands of the regulatory environment. For example, data protection laws may stipulate that a company must retain data in certain geographies for data sovereignty. By leveraging a multi-cloud architecture, a business can flexibly select services and providers originating in different datacenter regions and availability zones.
As well as staying in line to the tune of the regulator, the range of public cloud services on offer, from bare-metal servers to serverless computing, among others, is dynamic and impressive. Public cloud providers continually update the services they offer, and this enables companies to shift to more advanced workloads without having to buy, install and operate more of their own infrastructure.
The role of hybrid cloud
These benefits are fuelling a surge in popularity around multi-cloud deployments, but that is not to take away from the values offered by its close relative, hybrid cloud. Such deployments, while similar to multi-cloud, use a combination of on-premise servers, private cloud and public cloud, with tight operational coupling between the platforms.
This is useful for managing changeable, or dynamic, workflows – for example allowing an organisation to run workloads internally, but then flexibly ‘burst’ them into the public cloud if compute demand increases.
A transactional order entry system, used by retailers and airlines, for example, which experiences increases in demand around events like Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, would be a good candidate. Less critical resources, such as development workloads, can be hosted by a third-party cloud provider; mission-critical workloads can be managed in the private cloud.
Such an approach is also cost-effective, as organisations can run workloads in the least expensive cloud possible on a workload-by-workload basis. For example, an organisation can take advantage of the virtually limitless on-demand resource of a public cloud for the bulk of its operations, but then pay for a smaller private cloud where necessary, whether that’s to take advantage of serverless computing services for compute-intensive operations, or for workloads which require the added security of private cloud.
Where a hybrid cloud strategy may cause difficulties is in the interaction between private clouds and public cloud providers, as this demands API compatibility and excellent network connectivity. Businesses can attempt to mitigate these problems by developing hybrid cloud workflows which can work with multiple cloud providers – but this introduces involved workload design and testing.
Monitoring hybrid cloud deployments poses challenges caused by this added complexity as well. Hybrid cloud differs to the best-of-breed element of multi-cloud, where different clouds aren’t necessarily dependent on orchestration between one another, but are instead deployed in a way which allows organisations to operate applications in their most optimal environment.
Take back control
Legacy on-premise servers are resources which are deployed within a business’ IT infrastructure. The enterprise is responsible for maintaining the server, its cost, power consumption and all related processes.
In an on-premise environment, an enterprise retains all its data and remains in full control of what happens to it. This is beneficial for organisations working in a highly regulated area, such as banking or government, as they require a certain level of security and privacy – which on-premise delivers.
However, on-premise business servers create high levels of cost due to hardware maintenance, power usage and software updates, among others. On-premise solutions can hinder growth, so they are not ideal for start ups or any business targeting growth, particularly as they cannot be scaled as flexibly and effectively to demand as public cloud platforms can, without incurring greater up-front cost.
It is challenging for any business to grow, maintain flexibility, enjoy cost efficiencies, reliable platforms and better respond to a dynamic regulatory environment – all at once. However, the chances of achieving this tricky balancing act increase markedly if a business transforms with cloud technology.
In particular, a multi-cloud approach enables businesses to maximise their investment, remove inflexible vendor lock-in, innovate freely and meet the needs of their customers. From both a business agility and cost-efficiency point of view, achieving a balance of public and private cloud options in a multi-cloud setup is proving to be the winning tactic.
Stephan Fabel is the Director of Product at Canonical – the publisher of Ubuntu.
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